Jacques Verges, the provocative French lawyer who earned the nickname “Devil’s advocate” by defending a series of high-profile criminals from Klaus Barbie to Carlos the Jackal, died in Paris on Thursday aged 88.
Verges died of a heart attack around 8pm in the house where 18th-century philosopher Voltaire once lived — an appropriate setting for an iconoclast who devoted his life to defending unpopular causes, according to his publishing house Pierre-Guillaume de Roux.
“The ideal place for the last theatrical act that was the death of this born actor who, like Voltaire, cultivated the art of permanent revolt and volte-face,” the publisher said in a statement.
Christian Charriere-Bournazel, the head of France’s main bar association, said that Verges had lost a lot of weight and mobility since a fall a few months ago.
“We knew the end was near, but we didn’t know it would come so soon,” he said.
Born in Thailand in 1925 to a father from Reunion island and a Vietnamese mother, Verges was a communist as a student and later supported the Algerian National Liberation Front in its fight for independence from France.
After securing the release of Algerian anti-colonialist militant Djamila Bouhired, he married her.
Verges went on to become a high-flying lawyer, making headlines thanks to a client list that includes some of the most infamous names of modern times: Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Venezuelan revolutionary Carlos the Jackal, former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan.